During my childhood, my mother would take our family to visit her parents in Malaysia each year during the school holidays. I remember staying in this wooden kampung house with a few of my uncles and aunties, where playtime with my cousins involved catching spiders, riding down gravel roads surrounded by tall grasses, and hide-and-seek around the house. It felt free and safe to play on our own.
DIRTIED AND DEFILED
I cannot remember if I was seven or eight years old when one of my uncles called me to his room one night. As he chatted with me, he started to touch my private parts and had me touch his. I froze and didn’t know how to react. I recall being quiet and following his instructions. He told me not to tell my mother or anyone else. It was our secret.
This scenario repeated itself every time we visited my grandparents. One year, another uncle of mine did the same with me. Even though what was happening didn’t feel right, there wasn’t anyone whom I thought would believe me or whom felt safe to talk to. As I got older, I felt overwhelmed by guilt and shame, and kept what I thought were confusing experiences to myself. Then adolescence came and I learnt that what I had experienced was sexual abuse.
I stepped into teenhood believing that I was “dirtied” and no longer pure. My relationship with my mother hadn’t been good for a long time and it took an argument with her when I was 14 for me to finally blurt out all that my uncles had done. While the abuse stopped, no one actually addressed what had happened in those years with me. No one apologised. Everything was swept under the carpet. I felt betrayed by my own mother, “de led” by my uncles, and resented almost all my family members for not protecting me better.
MY BODY, GOD’S TEMPLE
That same year, I chanced upon pornographic content in the form of a manga comic with sexually explicit content. I was aroused by what I read and started masturbating at home. While it was physically pleasurable, I felt lousy after that. It felt like I was “defiling” myself even more with masturbation, and it reminded me of what my uncles had done to me. At the time, I thought, since I had already been “dirtied” by my uncles, what difference would it make if I defiled myself more? I could never be pure anyway.
When I was 18, I was brought to church by my aunt and accepted Jesus into my life. I was in a sexual relationship with my boyfriend at the time and reading sexually explicit material on and off. It was at a church youth camp that God spoke to me clearly that I had to end the relationship and live a life of sexual purity. I was convicted by 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, which says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.”
I heeded God’s call to live a life of sexual purity and broke up with my boyfriend. Yet I continued to struggle with pornography and masturbation after the break-up whenever I felt alone and most vulnerable. The short moments of physical pleasure reduced the pain, emotional turmoil, and loneliness I was experiencing, but it was just a coping mechanism. I still felt unable to overcome the feeling that I had been “stained” through the sexual abuse I had experienced, and did not see how I could even attempt to live a life of sexual purity.
SINCE I HAD ALREADY BEEN “DIRTIED” BY MY UNCLES, WHAT DIFFERENCE WOULD IT MAKE IF I DEFILED MYSELF MORE? I COULD NEVER BE PURE ANYWAY.
JOURNEY OF RESTORATION
Despite my good intentions to stay away from pornography, there were still countless times when I succumbed to temptation, leading me on a cycle of sinning, repenting, and sinning again. I loathed myself for being weak, and my mind and heart constantly reminded me of the guilt and shame of continually falling into sexual sin. During that time, I desperately asked God why I still felt like I was in bondage, even though the Bible says, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
God led me to Psalm 103:8–12, which says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
This assured me that God would restore me. Instead of focusing on my sin, I should focus on His grace. God has also reminded me time after time that He loves me, regardless of my past, present, and future.
The journey was and still is a battlefield of the mind. I have become intentional when dealing with my thoughts. Whenever images or words from movies, posters, or online articles trigger a sexual thought, instead of entertaining it, I declare 2 Corinthians 10:5 out loud: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” After that, I practise what Philippians 4:8 says, thinking only about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.
Throughout this entire journey, God has been faithful and He has restored me. Being able to stand where I am now hasn’t come easily at all, and has taken me years to process. I didn’t even have anyone who walked me through this — I read up a lot on forgiveness and overcoming the pain of sexual abuse on my own initiative, and in the process, realised that one of the things I needed to do to walk out of my past completely was to forgive myself and those who had hurt me.
GOD HAS ALSO REMINDED ME TIME AFTER TIME THAT HE LOVES ME, REGARDLESS OF MY PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE.
Painful as it was to relive the memories, I specifically named each offence committed against me, the uncles who had done so, and (even though I didn’t want to) chose to forgive them. I also chose to pray for them and bless them. While I never confronted my uncles about what happened, I did share my experience with my husband so that we could walk through this process of restoration together.
Lewis B. Smedes, a Christian writer and theologian, said it well: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” It took me years to acknowledge what happened to me and to pray for those who abused me, but I did it. I even managed to invite my uncles to my wedding. Talking to them that day, without bitterness, was liberating — I knew that my chains had been unshackled for good.